FIFTY YEARS OF JOYCE SPORTSWEAR

CHICAGO – The fashion industry has changed considerably in the 50 years Joycd Sportswear has been in business. For one thing, women are more casual. “They no longer consider a suit and hat necessary attire for a train journey,” says Jack Goodman, Joyce’s founder and chief executive officer.

The manufacturer of moderate-to-better sportswear and coordinates has also seen Chicago decline in importance as a fashion center. They have survived – and thrived – by keeping up with the times, Goodman says, and focusing on the customers’ needs.

That emphasis on the customer has fueled the company’s quiet, steady growth into a $30 million business. Dorothy Fuller, vice president of the Chicago Apparel Center, where Joyce has been one of the longest tenants, puts it this way: “Companies like Joyce are the unsung heros of American fashion. They are the backbone of our industry.”

“They’re not interested in being first with the trendiest looks so much as supplying what women are wearing and buying,” she adds.

With nine regional offices, Joyce now has about 2500 accounts across the USA – mainly department stores like Nordstrom’s and Jacobson’s – as well as a strong Canadian business. The firm’s overseas customers stretch as far afield as Nigeria.

It’s a far cry from when Goodman, now approaching his 80th birthday, first set up his business at age 29 manufacturing skirts. As he says, he had good industry contacts and “everybody bought something.”

He slowly developed other areas of sportswear so women could buy a range of sizes and styles. The business flourished as women became more casual dressers. “Separates became a way of life,” he says. “The business grew the way I wanted it to. I didn’t jump in – I made sure I could pay the bills.”

Now, his team of three designers produces four collections a year under the brand names Joyce, Joyce Petites, Accents by Joyce JS Separates and A’Maglia.

Goodman himself still works closely with his designers, holding regular merchandise meetings. Their inspiration comes mainly from trips to Europe. “We shop the stores,” Goodman says. “As a rule, what’s in the stores in Europe now translates into the next year in the USA.”

For example, trends he picked up on this most recent trip were shorter skirts, longer jackets and more color.

The business was named after Goodman’s daughter, and remains strictly a family affair. Goodman’s former son-in-law, Raymond Cell, is president and his grandson Michael Cell is assistant sales manager.

But despite the significance of the half-century anniversary, celebrations will be fairly low key: some ads, a mailing to customers and, Goodman says, “We’ll have a big birthday cake … with ice cream.”

A WINNING TEAM: YOUNG DESIGNERS BAE AND CASTRO

CHICAGO – If Joyce Sportswear is the veteran of Chicago fashion, Bae and Castro are the new kids on the block.

The design team of Amiee Bae and Cynthia Castro has been manufacturing for just a year. But in that time, they’ve won more than 30 accounts, including Carson Pirie Scott, Marshall Field’s and North Shore designer boutique Scarboro Fair.

So far, their business has been concentrated in the Midwest. But Bae and Castro plan to sell to stores across the country during the next eyar, and are currently interviewing reps in other cities.

They estimate 1994 sales at $60,000, “conservatively.”

The learning curve has been steep, says Bae. Their first few collections were more experimental, but now they’ve found a niche: as designers of sophisticated, fashion-forward sportswear, a little different from traditional department store lines.

Wholesale price points range from $30 for a cropped vest to $135 for a jacket.

“We’ve got a better feeling for our customer now,” Bae explains. “She’s wealthy, very aware of trends and probably already has Armani and Donna Karan, but wants our stuff to look a little different.”

According to Dana Hurwitz, owner of Scarboro Fair, Bae & Castro appeals to a cross-section of customers, slightly younger than the traditional designer sportswear buyer.

“They’re young and inventive and not something you find commonly in the market. They add a little twist,” Hurwitz says. She notes that a burlap vest in two lengths from the spring collection flew out of the store.

“They have a very unique way of looking at clothing,” says Karalyn Nienas, buyer for advance better sportswear at Carson’s. Particular strengths are interesting shapes, attention to detail and the use of great textures. She cites a group of cotton basketweave pique fitted jackets, vests and slim pants which Carson’s bought for spring.

Bae notes that Chcago has become more accepting of alternative looks, which has been good for business. “People consider us cutting edge because we’re in the Midwest. If we were in New York, we wouldn’t be at all,” she says.

The team, who do almost everything themselves although seamstresses help out with the sewing, met at their previous job with Rhyner Designs, a Chicago knitwear manufacturer.

Castro, 35, has a 1984 degree in fashion design from Chicago’s Revogue college. Bae, 25, studied fashion design first at Parsons School of Design in New York, then at the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in 1991.

Their fall line is based on what Ricky Ricardo wore in “I Love Lucy” – 1940s men’s suits customized for women, with body-conscious tailoring, feminine details and sexy innerwear, Bae says.

Most of their inspiration comes from the past. “We have a library of history books, paintings, art history books,” Bae says. “Then we come back to realtiy and figure out what everyone else is doing.”

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